Racism- Forms, Features, Impacts, Way forward

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The death of an innocent African American named George Floyd triggered a massive civil rights movement in the USA and solidarity protests were also held in other parts of the world. The social phenomenon of racism has been in existence for long now and all attempts of eliminating the evil practice once again seem to be gone in vain as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ intensifies in the USA.

This topic of “Racism- Forms, Features, Impacts, Way forward” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

What is the George Floyd incident?

  • On the 25th May 2020, George Floyd, a 46 years old black man was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota was killed during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.
  • The Police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed which resulted in his death.
  • The videos made by the witnesses and the security cameras became public and it led to massive demonstrations and protests across the US and around the world against police brutality against a member of the African-American community.

What is a Race?

  • A race is a group or community of human beings formed on common physical attributes, shared social qualities, and generally viewed as a distinct by society.
  • Initially, the race was based on basic physical and behavioral aspects but genetic studies in the last 20th century refuted the existence of biologically distinct races.
  • Scholars now argue that races are cultural interventions reflecting specific attitudes and beliefs that were imposed on populations world-over in the wake of European conquests which began with colonialism.
  • In today’s times, the term race has been applied to religious groups (Jewish race), linguistic groups (Arab race), or ethnic groups (French race, slavish race, Chinese race, etc).

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What is Racism?

  • Racism is an act of prejudice, discrimination, antagonism directed against different races.
  • It is a feeling of hatred of one person by another, one community by another because of skin color, language, customs, place of birth or any factor that supposedly reveals the basic character of that person or community.
  • When specific body features are thought to be linked with specific features of behavior, attitudes that are inter-generationally transmitted, the idea of race emerges.
  • Each race is believed to be fundamentally different from one another and there is a definite hierarchy between the different races.
  • The most notorious examples of racism are slavery, particularly the enslavement of Africans. The western world has seen Africa and Asia as the lands of savages not fit to be called human beings.
  • During the 13th Amendment to end slavery brought in by the then US President Abraham Lincoln debates in the USA were focused on the independence proclamation that said, “All men are equal”. The anti-abolitionists claimed that the slaves are not fit to be called as men and so don’t deserve equality with the white race.
  • There also have been attempts to demonstrate the scientific basis of racism, particularly in the 1930s.

What is the difference between Race and Ethnicity?

  • Often used interchangeably, race and ethnicity are technically two different things.
  • Race is understood by most people as a mixture of physical, behavioral, and cultural attributes. While Ethnicity describes a person’s language and shared culture.
  • In other words, Race is something one inherits and ethnicity is typically something one acquires, self-ascribed, based on where one lives.

What is the difference between Racism and Anti-Semitism?

  • Nazi Germany (Anti-Semites) considered Jewish as subhuman and also superhumans: devilishly cunning, skilled and powerful, ugly. They were not to be trusted and must be finished from the face of the earth.
  • One difference between this anti-Semitism towards Jews is that the Jews were considered to be evil and the focus of racism is inferiority.

Is racism is limited against colored people?

  • Racism in current times has taken a wider form to include anti-immigrant stand also.
  • The xenophobic tendencies are the subset of racial mindsets.
  • The xenophobic tendencies are on the rise in recent times as the anti-immigrant movements are increasing in the west.
  • The Asian Community faces a very subtle but powerful racist hatred in the western countries.
  • The racist slur against the Asian community is based on the physical attributes, cultural practices, patterns of clothing, etc.
  • In recent times when fundamentalist terrorism has engulfed the world with newer modus operandi like lone wolf attacks, the racial sentiments showcase themselves in the form of Islamophobia and phobia towards cultural practices towards immigrants.

Is Racism limited to the West?

  • Racism is not limited to the west only. The white supremacist hegemony has seeped into the Asian mindset also.
  • The African community faces racism in India and other eastern countries very regularly.
  • In India itself, the African students face violence even in various cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, New Delhi, etc.
  • The Indian citizenry from the North-Eastern states have faced racial discrimination and violence in other parts of India based on their physical attributes and appearance differences.
  • Racial discrimination is not limited against the Black community but also towards local races like Nepali Gorkha, Rohingya, Uyghur Muslims, etc.
  • There has been a largescale state-supported persecution against the Rohingya community. The Uyghur Muslims also face state discrimination and subjugation.

How racism is sustained?

  • Racism is sustained through a very powerful politico-socio-economic-cultural nexus.
  • The political majoritarianism in countries worldwide creates an environment of othering. The subtle discrimination in opening up political posts to the so-called lower races creates a power hierarchy that builds further othering.
  • The stereotyping of the communities into incompetent, lazy, and living on the taxpayer’s money creates economic hindrances to the underprivileged class.
  • The subtle ways of denying jobs, promotions, and other economic benefits based on racial discrimination builds on the powerful lobbying of the so-called superior races.
  • The advertising and entertainment industry creates and strengthens this hegemony of racial supremacy through its immensely racist portrayal of some communities.
  • The social stratification based on race is so strong that even in the age of constitutional democracy with provisions of fundamental rights, the disadvantages of the underprivileged community are persistent.
  • The continuation hegemony on the colored people’s minds is assisted by the huge advertisement industry and art industry.
  • The huge industry of fairness creams creates a feeling of deficiency in the minds of the colored people undermining their confidence
  • The portrayal of protagonists in the movies and other artistic expressions as fair, polished heroes against dark-skinned villains only strengthens the stereotypes.

How racism persists in the US?

  • Despite the glorious 13th amendment to the US constitution and further measures, racism still persists in America.
  • Just the open discrimination is replaced by the hidden and systemic discrimination.
  • A racialized criminal investigation system persists where the blacks are the first suspects in investigations.
  • In several states of the USA, blacks outnumber whites by serious amounts in prisons.
  • Black community members are more likely to get severe punishments for crimes committed including capital punishment than their white counterparts.

What are the impacts of racism on society?

  • Racism is a systemic ideology, a complex set of beliefs and practices that, on the presumed basis of biology, divides humanity into imaginary higher and lower race people.
  • This imaginary divide is harmful to society has a whole as it creates animosity between the higher and lower races disturbing social harmony.
  • It not only sustains a permanent group hierarchy but deeply stigmatizes the so-called inferior races.

Political impacts

  • The political inequality sets in once the divide formalizes and the basic political rights like equality, liberty are denied.
  • Even after the democratic movements and ultimate establishment of democracy in Europe and North America, Black people in the first world have long been denied equal citizenship, right to vote, and other political rights.
  • The treatment meted out to the so-called inferior race is cruel and inhuman. They are denied basic human rights and left to live in ghettos outside the civil structure.
  • Racism if penetrated to the system, creates a system of institutional inequality denying the victim races equality of opportunity in public matters.

Economic impacts

  • This inequality in political matters results in unequal economic freedom and opportunity and leads to economic impacts
  • Racism naturalizes a person’s belief, character, and culture. The victim races are thought to be incompetent with low IQs, and denied any important positions in economic life.
  • Without lack of quality formal education, they are left to do informal jobs and remain forever beyond the formal economy.
  • The victim race is left to live in extreme poverty, without substantive socio-economic measures to promote their well-being.

Social Impacts

  • It has historically led to the criminalization of the ghettoized society leading to further stigmatization in the west.
  • This criminalization then is not seen as the impact of racism but generalized as the way of life of the so-called savage races.
  • The extreme stigmatization, hate towards the negros have led to instances of mob lynching, public violence against the negros, etc.
  • Extreme white supremacist organizations like Ku Klux Klan have been formed by the fanatic whites in America who primarily engaged in inhuman crimes against the African American community.

Gender and racism

  • The most devastating impacts of racism are on women. As a community without agency or voice, it suffers heavily due to racism.
  • The racial violence, sexual exploitation, and economic hardships are only some of the visible manifestations of the racism on women.

Global impacts

  • Racism is a threat to globalization itself. The xenophobia that has set in creates difficulties in the cross-country migration.
  • It leads to lesser diversity in the countries leading to uniformity in the countries.
  • The nations like the USA are historically made of immigrants and many of its citizens take pride in the fact. Racism and anti-immigration are an attack on the very roots of that nation.
  • The attacks on people from around the world creates an atmosphere of animosity among the people of the guest and host countries.

India and Racism

  • India has been the victim and, on very rare occasions, has been the culprit of Racism.
  • The attacks on African students in various cities have been discussed above.
  • In 2017, the African Diplomatic community released a joint statement deploring India’s failure to deter racist attacks on their nationals.
  • The North-eastern people have been beaten, abused during the current pandemic situations. They have been forced to leave their places of residence in some parts of the country because they “resemble the Chinese people”.
  • Recently, a West Indian cricketer called for an apology over casual racism against him during the cricket event Indian Premier League.
  • The racial abuse the Gorkha community faces is also a Case in Point.
  • Caste discrimination is an Indian form of racial discrimination based on birth that has been continuing for thousands of years now. It has affected the lower castes in every imaginable sphere of life.
  • The mob lynching, honor killings, social boycotts based on caste, and religious differences still happen in India frequently.

What could be the way forward?

  • The Constitutional rights must be protected through stricter implementations of safeguard laws given to these communities.
  • legal prohibitions on racist behavior cannot eliminate the attitudes that underlie such behavior. Still, the law is a necessary starting point in tackling other factors that perpetuate such discrimination.
  • As the court cases against the discrimination are delayed, it increases the impunity of the wrong-doers and decreases the confidence of the victims in the constitutional methods. Adequate judicial reforms are a must to end the menace of racism.
  • The multicultural perspective of human rights must be promoted to give special rights (affirmative actions) to the racially disadvantaged sections along with a minimum guarantee of basic human rights.
  • The economic development of the so-called lower races will go a long way in destroying stereotypes about them. A higher standard of living will give a necessary boost in confidence in their own abilities and they are empowered to fight for their rights on equal footing.
  • Another important aspect is that crisis periods like economic slowdown, depression, unemployment are very much related to the racial violence tendencies as these periods create an environment of uncertainty which spills over social harmony. Deft handling of these crises can negate possible tensions in different communities.
  • Racism is a concept of social discrimination based on the stratification of society as higher and lower classes. As it is rooted in the social structure, the root step could be social awareness and reform of the medieval mindset.
  • This social awareness must begin with the ‘conscious raising’ of the younger generations inculcating in them values such as equality, humanity, plurality, and fraternity.
  • Increasing mutual interaction can play a large role in eliminating lack of familiarity and resulting phobia. The experiment of common schools for white and black students in the 1960-70s proved to be very fruitful in this context.
  • Public and private institutions like universities and companies must form a committee to tackle any kind of racially discriminatory behavior at workplaces and educational centers.
  • The international community must acknowledge the existence of racial discrimination and act strongly. The universal charter of human rights seeks to end all forms of Discrimination.


The underlying human equality must be held in high esteem. The movements to end all forms of discrimination require strong political will along with powerful grassroot civil rights movement. The incidences like George Floyd are reminders of our inability in weaving humanity in one thread of love, respect, and interdependence. We must be united to fight racism and other social evils to eliminate them root and branch.

Practice Question for Mains

What is Racism? Explicate the factors that sustain racism and enumerate the strategies to eliminate racism?

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